The Consortium

So where can you find a blood-red speech by Patrick Buchanan when you need one?

The Republican Convention in San Diego was so determined to avert a repeat of Buchanan's harsh rhetoric in Houston-'92 that the Grand Old Party put on an event that may have been more chilling. It was a confab that had all the robotic spontaneity of a Stepford Wives coffee klatch.

With its low-rise podium and Elizabeth Dole's wandering microphone, the hall looked less like a convention and more like a daytime talk show, with an extra-large studio audience and really dull topics. When the convention managers weren't pausing for television commercials, the Republican speakers were droning through scripted 10-minute presentations filled with platitudes that would have made a high-school debating coach cringe.

Even the supposed high points, such as Colin Powell's reprise of one of his $60,000 pep talks, complete with telegenic hand gestures, lacked the minimal drama that Americans expect from prime time TV.

Wouldn't the convention have been more interesting, more meaningful -- and yes, higher-rated -- if William Weld and Olympia Snowe had led a floor fight over abortion rights? Or if the deficit hawks squared off against the supply-siders? Or if Powell had centered his speech around an honest critique of how Republicans have exploited race for political gain: from Nixon's Southern Strategy to Bush's Willie Horton commercials to the current scapegoating around welfare, affirmative action and immigration?

But the Republican hierarchy nixed one of the few high-profile opportunities for Americans to debate where we're headed as a nation and what we believe in. In some ways, that distrust of democracy in San Diego made Houston's intolerant conservatism look good by comparison. At least, in Houston, the voters had the sense that the Republicans were speaking their minds.

True, many voters were turned off by what was on those minds. But in San Diego, the Republicans acted as if they could fool the voters by trying to conceal where the party really stands, a stealth approach that must have made many Americans even more suspicious about what the Republicans would do if they get to control all branches of the federal government.

Vice presidential choice Jack Kemp unwittingly drove home the GOP's apparent distaste for pluralism when he publicly switched to Bob Dole's mean-spirited stance in favor of tossing children of illegal immigrants out of America's schools. "You're watching a metamorphosis," Kemp declared with his sometimes disconnected ebullience.

In San Diego, the Republicans nominated more than Bob Dole. They chose image and conformity over principle and debate. In doing so, they created an image of political expediency that did not conform with the nation's historic faith in democracy -even when that process can be messy, make you mad, and intrude on commercial breaks.

Robert Parry, Editor of The Consortium

(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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